Let Me Tell You About Myself

One of the most dangerous things an interviewer can say to you is “Tell me about yourself”. It seems so innocuous, an invitation to share something about yourself, to break the ice and get the conversation flowing. But what can (and does) happen is that the interviewee goes on a long and rambling autobiography with minimal relevance to the subject at hand (the job) and suddenly you find that the interviewer is losing interest in your candidacy.

As usual with these things, it helps if you have anticipated such a question or, if not the specific question that was asked, then how you want to present yourself. Revealing incidental information about yourself can have a negative effect on your interview, even if it shouldn’t. You need to keep the answer on point, concise and relevant to the matter at hand i.e. the job.

Of course, this question is not restricted to formal interviews, it is the basic question fundamental to every network meeting and every time you make a business contact. You need to answer the question “why do I need to pay attention to you?”

Most people refer to this as the elevator pitch: you meet someone waiting for the elevator and you have until they get out at their floor (a rather undefined length of time) to tell them enough about yourself that they are interested in learning more (and if they do, make sure you have a business card to give them). Though there is not a specific job in mind in this case, the basic principle is the same. You need to deliver a concise, relevant summary, with a few things to make them remember you, but not so long that you haven’t gotten through it by the time those elevator doors open. The first 45 seconds are thus critical – after that point you may be on borrowed time, so don’t spend 30 seconds on a witty but uninformative introduction.

I should interject at this point that this was the precise subject of my network group’s meeting yesterday (DBM Pathfinders). In that meeting, I heard some excellent advice which I shall attempt to pass on here. It also reminded me that I am myself not polished enough at this. Hopefully, I can take some of the advice I dole out here.

The simplest approach is to have a prepared speech written beforehand then learn it and repeat it at any given opportunity. Overall, I’d say that is what I have done up to now and it hasn’t really worked. Partly, this is due to a combination of not enough practice (so I stumble) and an evolving pitch, as I try and make it a bit better. But it is the wrong approach in any case, because you need to change your pitch depending on your audience. You don’t get into fine scientific detail with the HR manager, but you need to get a bit more technical with a senior scientist. What I have seen others do is to have an outline of content, a list of talking points from which you can pick and choose. It is good to make them talking points rather than explicitly written out so you say them naturally and not like you are reading them aloud. But you need them so you can make the best use of that window of opportunity. If you stumble and stutter, the moment may be lost, so you need to practice it enough to bring it off when it is for real.

Some things to include:

First, an introduction. Your name, your tag line. In my case, “David Perrey, PhD organic chemist with 12 years experience in drug discovery research.” It isn’t very flashy or distinctive, which is a minus, but it is concise and tells the listener what area I am involved in.

Qualifications: useful to say, especially if it is distinctive. Sadly for me, a PhD is not that unusual but an MBA from a top school “Harvard MBA” attracts the attention.

Recent history: main employer or employers, what you did for them, how you excelled. Give hard numbers if you can.

Awards: if you received Outstanding Employee recognition, that is definitely something to mention. School achievements are also worth noting, especially if highly relevant.

Strengths: talking about your best qualities is a great way to make you distinct from another candidate and gives the listener an insight to what kind of person you are – and whether that would be a good fit with their organization.

Typically, I see people finish with a repeat of their name (spelling it sometimes). A lot of people say that they are LinkedIn too, an implicit invitation to look them up there. It makes a good ending point.

The overall effect should be a picture of you that they can project into their own world. If this guy was Salesperson of the Year at company X, maybe he can bring that kind of stuff to my sales force. If this guy has published that many patents and brought so many compounds through pre-clinical candidate selection, he can enrich my pipeline too.

The final point is one I have mentioned already. Once you have this framework in place, you need to practice it. Take it to your network group. Try it on your family. See how it looks in the mirror even. Be aware of yourself and your verbal quirks. I have a tendency to speak too softly, so when I stand up at the meeting, I start off louder, knowing that. But I was told yesterday that I trailed off, becoming quieter through the pitch. That is great feedback. I can work on that now.

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One comment on “Let Me Tell You About Myself

  1. I actually speculate exactly why you labeled this particular posting, “Let Me Tell You About
    Myself Chemical Space”. In any event I really loved it!
    Thank you,Brandy

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